About six years ago, one evening, I was working late after tucking my boys to bed. At that time they were aged 5 and 10 and were sharing a bedroom right next door from my study. Mikal the eldest slept on the top of their bunk bed, and Luan at the bottom. “Dad, did you know 2+2=4?” said Luan from his bed in the dark. “Yes, I know,” I answered a bit surprised. I knew they were counting in grade R, even backwards from 10 to 1, but this was a calculation… What is 4+4?” I asked. Eight he said without hesitation. “And 8+8?” Sixteen came the answer pretty quickly. “And 16+16?” “Thirty-two!” he said.  I was blown away. We had at least one math genius in our house, I thought! “Luan how do you know this?” I asked. “Mikal gives me the answers.” He answered without hesitation. I had to laugh. They consciously took the Mickey out of me, instead of clever numbers guys, I had two comedians for sons!

After I resigned as a teacher I was a financial advisor and later sales staff trainer for the largest insurance company in South Africa in the early ’90s and had many new financial advisors attending my sales training classes between 1992 and 1996. One common fear they all shared was seeing their first prospective clients after completing several training sessions aimed at equipping them for a very high demanding and probably the most difficult service to sell – financial advice. A highly technical field with a lot of risks and a good chance of getting it wrong. “What if I don’t know the answer? What if they find out I am a rookie and they are the first of my clients? What if I make a mistake?” were questions I received regularly.

Luan’s little joke reminded me of the advice I gave them at that stage: “You don’t have to know the answers; you just need to know where to find them.” The fact of the matter is that not even the most experienced, most successful financial advisor in the world, knows all the answers. They might even have forgotten some of the things the new advisor has just learned. This also doesn’t mean one has to tell the client that you have just started, or that they are the first client. The promise must always be that you are part of a highly professional, and competent team, equipped to provide the best possible advice the client might need. The commitment to find out if you don’t know, and to return with an answer, and or the support needed.

More important than this commitment is the awareness to only provide solutions and or answers when you are absolutely sure of the facts. There is no quicker way to lose a client’s trust than to waffle around with vague advice because you don’t want to admit that you don’t know. Also, remember that although the average client is a lot more knowledgeable about financial and legal matters today than they used to be 30 years ago; a new financial adviser who completed his or her compulsory training will definitely know more than most of the clients who make use of their service. It is an equally big mistake to assume the client knows nothing and the client knows it all.

Remember Luan’s lesson when you are next consulted by a client about financial or business matters.  If you don’t know the answer, Mikal can help you, to help the client! Use the resources available to you. Answer only when you are sure of your facts. Admit it when you don’t know, promise to return with an answer, and make sure you honour your promise. In this way, clients will respect you and trust you more than when you try to be clever, and share incorrect information as your answer. All the best!

Until next time!
Stefan Lessing